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August 15, 2012PAYSON -- Arizona State loves its crowded backfield, but at another position on the field, the Sun Devils have opted to spread their talent around.
Before this week, the 9 receiver, or the split end who lines up on the boundary side of the field, had three wide outs competing for playing time: junior J.J. Holliday, senior Rashad Ross and junior college transfer Alonzo Agwuenu.
But since the Sun Devils hope to utilize Ross' high-end speed as a homerun threat, the coaching staff needed to move one of the other players, who have both impressed during fall camp, for each of them to see consistent snaps.
Since Agwuenu comes in at 6-foot-4 and Holliday is at least four inches shorter, the logical move was to switch Holliday to the slot position, which junior Kevin Ozier was the leader at before.
"I had a talk with the coaches and they said they want the three best players on the field and they decided to move me inside," Holliday said. "From what it looks like in practice, it looks like a good move."
The biggest difference for Holliday since switching spots on the field has been adjusting to who he has to beat to make a play.
"Now I've got linebackers lining up against me instead of corners," he said. "I don't mind, that's a little easier. I've grown a lot as a receiver recently."
Meanwhile as Holliday left the boundary position, Agwuenu continues to flourish on the outside. He knew the position was crowded before the shift so when coaches made the move, Agwuenu realized it was in part because they liked him so much.
"It shows confidence in the both of us that we know the plays, that's the first thing," Agwuenu said. "You have to know your assignment and your spacings. You have to know what you're going to do on the field before you even catch a ball. That shows a lot of trust that they know that we know what we're doing."
Transferring from a junior college in Southern California, Agwuenu said he has never experienced the type of coaching he's getting at ASU. The receiver credited much of his early success to the amount of time his coaches have spent with him.
"This is the most I've been coached ever," he said. "The little things, they've coached me harder. I feel like I've gone through this a year already because I've learned so much. I really appreciate it and I'm an open bag to learn as much as possible. Everyone makes mistakes, it's how you come back from the mistakes. If you make the same mistake twice, that says a lot about you as a player. Just do it once and learn from it."
Coming into this year after a strong end to 2011, Ross had high expectations put on him to carry a lot of the load that was left by the graduating receivers. But with just a little more than two weeks left until the season begins, Ross has struggled in fall camp thus far.
"I came out sluggish and I wasn't playing to my full potential," he said "My routes are getting better but just because I'm fast doesn't mean I play fast. I have to play fast and that's what coach (Mike) Norvell has told me. He said if you play fast, you'll be unstoppable. I took that message to my head and every time I line up that's what I tell myself, play fast."
A day after ASU coach Todd Graham said walk-on kicker Jon Mora ascended to the top of the competition before incumbent sophomore Alex Garoutte answered back, the pair, along with fellow walk-on Dillon Jackson, continued to battle Wednesday morning at Camp Tontozona for the starting job.
Through each field goal kicking session, Mora took the first attempt followed by Garoutte then Jackson.
The kickers began with short tries as all three connected from 20 yards out before they moved back.
In the first team session Mora and Garoutte each drilled 37 yard kicks while Jackson didn't get an attempt. Later on, Mora became the first to miss as he pushed a 47 yard try wide right. Garoutte then responded by sending a kick of the same length through the uprights before Jackson also missed right, although he was let down by a bad snap.
The trio ended their first practice up north by all three making 30 and 35 yard attempts.
Special team position updates
Keeping with his mantra to play key starters on special teams, Graham continued to try different players out at positions on Wednesday morning.
ASU junior defensive back Alden Darby, senior running back James Morrison and senior safety Keelan Johnson all were on the first-team kickoff coverage with junior cornerback Osahon Irabor and junior defensive back Robert Nelson acting as the gunners.
Attempting to shore up an already shaky kicking game, senior punter Josh Hubner and redsirt freshman Mo Latu saw reps as the snapper for field goal attempts. While Latu delivered the ball low a few times to holder Mike Bercovici, Hubner appeared to get the ball on target the majority of the time.
ASU junior defensive lineman Mike Pennel did not practice Wednesday morning and was not made available to the media. He was seen on the training bike for much of practice.
ASU junior cornerback Osahon Irabor and senior wide receiver Jamal Miles bumped knees during a 1-on-1 drill but while both received attention from trainers, they did rejoin drills later.